Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed a proliferation of conspiracy theories. While it may seem peculiar, this recent rise in conspiratorial thinking follows a historically significant trend: conspiracy theories often take hold during periods of societal crisis, such as wars, economic crashes, and pandemics. Massive social upheaval can lead people to question the legitimacy, efficacy, and efficiency of institutions of power. Moreover, psychological literature suggests that conspiracy theories speak to those who, driven by uncertainty and existential dread, are desperately attempting to make sense of their newfound situation. Convenient narratives, like conspiracies, help people find meaning in inexplicable and frightening predicaments.
Arguably, the most prolific theory that has arisen during the COVID-19 crisis is QAnon. This far-right conspiracy theory proposes that US President Trump is battling a secretive cabal of satanic, pedophilic, Democratic elites. QAnon followers claim to be receiving their information and marching orders from an anonymous, high-ranking government insider named Q. For some inexplicable reason, Q spends his off-time making cryptic drops on message boards like 4Chan. While the theory is absurd, the mainstreaming of QAnon cannot be ignored. By twisting its narratives to fit with the philosophies of other subcultures, and by tying its ideas to broader explanations of the pandemic, QAnon has rebranded itself, moving beyond obscure message boards and evolving into a cultural movement. What was once an alt-right, thinly veiled anti-Semitic conspiracy on the outskirts of the internet has now become a topic of national debate. But how did this happen?